April 14, 2004

'Excellence' awards honor variety of contributions

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's new "Excellence Through Commitment Awards Program" is more broadly rewarding scholarship, research, creative activity, teaching and service.

The program folds in existing awards, such as the University- and college-wide outstanding scholar and teacher prizes, with new, all-university awards recognizing major and ongoing contributions by term faculty, administrative/professional staff and Civil Service workers and with new "Achievement in Excellence" grants that reward specific accomplishments by tenured and term faculty, staff and graduate assistants. It also increases the cash value of the older awards by 50 percent and adds a matching account to support professional activities in the next academic year.

Set up by Chancellor Walter V. Wendler to help meet Southern@150 goals for creative, scholarly and teaching excellence, the awards reflect a pledge he made during last fall's meeting with University faculty to "encourage, recognize and reward" all manner of top-notch work.

"My goal is that this sympathetic linkage between creative and scholarly work and research on the one hand, and the teaching environment on the other hand, will be strong," he said.

Wendler will host a dinner Thursday, April 22, to honor the program's first winners.

University-wide award winners are: Charles Fanning, professor of English; Joyce V. Fetro, professor of health education and recreation; Michael S. Harbin, academic adviser for the Crime, Delinquency and Corrections Center; Katherine A. Jacobson, life sciences laboratory manager; and Rita J. Polston, lecturer in mathematics. Here, by category, are brief profiles of each.



Outstanding Teacher

Fetro, who will claim $7,500 in cash and $7,500 in professional development support, specializes in health education curriculum development, research methods in health education and program evaluation, coordinated school health programs, foundations of health education, death education and substance prevention.

But, says Fetro, "I believe we teach children and youth, not subjects or content areas. We must consistently challenge students to use critical thinking and reflective skills -- asking them what they think rather than telling them what to think. I am merely a guide, arriving with a clearly-developed plan, learner objectives and related instructional strategies, to help students meet their developmental needs and build personal competence."

In her classrooms, Fetro also stresses closeness, belonging, self-worth, independence, autonomy, mastery and self-awareness. Her students say it's a package that works.

"She pushes students to critically think and understand concepts, as well as expecting student work to be nothing but the best," wrote former student Marcie R. Wycoff-Horn, now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

"In addition to focusing on students' learning content, Dr. Fetro weaves personal and social skills throughout all the courses, emphasizing their importance."

Current student Kyle Deere wrote, "She has a wealth of knowledge which she effectively shares with her students (and) is willing to spend extra time discussing difficult concepts to ensure that every student understands. Most importantly I found Dr. Fetro to be very compassionate. She truly cares for her students and helps them to reach their full potential. I feel welcome in her office even when I am not enrolled in one of her courses."

Fetro earned her undergraduate degree in 1971 from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A two-degree graduate of SIUC (a master's in 1985 and a doctorate in 1987), she joined the faculty as an associate professor in 1997 and was promoted to full professor in 2001.



Outstanding Scholar

Fanning, who will receive $7,500 in cash and $7,500 in professional development support, is internationally known for his broad knowledge of the Irish in America -- from literature to history to culture to immigration. His peers say this breadth puts him at the top of his field or very near it.

Thomas E. Hachey, who heads Boston College's Center for Irish Programs, called him "one of the most prominent and accomplished interdisciplinary specialists on either side of the Atlantic," while Maureen Murphy, past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies, credited him with founding the discipline of Irish-American literature.

Fanning has published 12 books, 16 articles in professional journals, 12 book chapters, nine book reviews and two encyclopedia entries. Three of his books have won national prizes, including the Turner Prize, a major honor for historians -- and a novel award for someone in the field of English.

In addition, Fanning is a skilled grantsman, garnering 11 fellowships and research awards in 10 years, including $240,000 in federal money to develop what has become an ongoing faculty/student exchange program with University College in Galway, Ireland.

Fanning, who came to SIUC in 1993, earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard College in 1974, a master's from Harvard University in 1966, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 and 1972.



Outstanding Term Faculty Teacher

Polston, whose award totals $3,000, teaches remedial algebra, core curriculum mathematics courses (many of which she designed and developed) and preparation courses for elementary and secondary teachers. In addition, she trains graduate teaching assistants and monitors their teaching progress and organizes and coordinates her department's annual field day competition.

While many of the students who take Polston's classes have struggled with math for years, Polston's approach to them is, she says, "relatively simple."

"Every student that enters a classroom can learn. Some simply learn differently than others. An awareness of individual differences and the ability to adapt a presentation to those individual differences is essential."

Instead of relying on rote and tedious paper calculations, Polston draws upon group problem solving and technological tools to help students see mathematics in a new light.

"I never liked math before but Rita ... made me think about math as being useful for me," wrote Daniel Hiestand, a 2001 graduate who found when he took statistics in his senior year that Polston had prepared him so well he had no trouble with it.

Former student Marcia J. Bissett-Cline wrote that when she finally faced her "old nemesis," she found instead a "blessing."

"Whereas I previously would have ... valiantly tried to understand the material, mostly on my own, Mrs. Polston not only would ask the students in the lecture hall if they had any questions, but she also took the time to gauge her lectures to the average student's ability to grasp the material.

"While providing very helpful information in her lectures, she was always there for those of us who struggled and needed more help ... not only with extra lectures before each exam but also in her office. Often there were more of us than could fit in her office so she just went and found a bigger room down the hall."

Polston has taught at SIUC since 1986. She earned both degrees from the University, receiving her bachelor's in 1980 and her master's in 1989.



Outstanding Teaching Support, Administrative/Professional

Harbin, whose award comes to $3,000, has served as administration of justice academic adviser for nearly a decade, recruiting, orienting, advising, scheduling and counseling more than 400 majors. As most majors are transfer students, he works with community college administrators to keep them abreast of changing curriculum requirements, and he regularly visits the colleges to speak directly with students.

He also plays a key role in his unit's internship program, finding agencies to take students, matching student skills to agency needs and monitoring student progress once they are placed. In addition, he does the bulk of the organization work in putting together the department's annual career and internship fair, which brings representatives of as many as 40 agencies to campus.

"Mike's background -- master's degree in history and nearly four years as a juvenile probation officer in Williamson County -- has prepared him well to meet the needs of our undergraduate students," wrote James Garofalo, who heads the crime center.

"He has a familiarity with the agencies in which the majority of our undergraduates will be seeking employment, but he also has a great appreciation for the broad-based liberal arts education that we try to instill in our students. Thus, it is not surprising that ... I receive uniformly positive student feedback from students about the help Mike has given them."



Outstanding Teaching Support, Civil Service

Jacobson, who will receive $3,000, has worked in the University's life sciences areas for more than 30 years. Currently laboratory manager for core curriculum general biology courses and laboratory coordinator co-supervisor for introductory courses in the life science major, she has direct contact with as many as 2,400 students each year.

Her duties include training graduate assistants; planning, testing and evaluating lab exercises; maintaining equipment, laboratories and prep rooms; ordering and inventorying equipment and supplies; and scheduling.

"Kathy Jacobson meets the multitude of challenges that she faces on a daily basis with integrity, quick thinking, efficiency, organization and unquestionable dedication," wrote William L. Muhlach, zoology chair.

"She can resurrect the confidence of a stressed graduate assistant, support an overwhelmed instructor, assist a "lost soul" student who has academic or scheduling problems, repair a microscope, work with a book representative on a customized text, proofread instructors' exams for accuracy and appropriateness, squeeze the most out of the teaching support budget and smile at the end of the day."